Cold Calling – Know Your Rights
The telephone rings as you’re
sitting down to dinner or putting the kids to bed. A stranger is selling
something. It’s known as “cold calling.” For many businesses, including
securities firms, cold calling serves as a legitimate way to reach potential
customers. But sometimes serious trouble and financial losses await you at the
other end of the line. You may be pressured to buy a bad investment. Or the
investment might be a scam.
Whether the calls are annoying,
abusive, or downright crooked, you can stop cold callers. This Alert tells
you how to stop cold calls, what your legal rights are, which red flags to
avoid, and how to evaluate any investment opportunity that comes your way over
Use the “National Do Not Call
Registry” to Reduce Unwanted Cold Calls
The National Do Not Call Registry
was jointly established by the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal
Communications Commission to give Americans a way to avoid getting telemarketing calls at
home. Adding your home or cell phone number to the Registry is easy — and
absolutely free. You may register two ways:
- Online at donotcall.gov,
as long as you have a working email address. Shortly after you sign up, you
will receive an email confirmation from donotcall.gov that contains a link you
must click to complete the process. If you do not click on this link within
72 hours, your phone number will not be registered.
- Over the telephone by calling toll-free 1-888-382-1222 from the number you wish to
Your number will remain on the
Registry for five years — or sooner if you decide to terminate your phone service
or take your number off the Registry.
Tip: Be sure to sign up for the National Do Not Call registry
every five years. Your registration will expire five years from the day you
register, so you’ll need to place your number back in the Registry after the
expiration date to limit cold calls.
Be aware that putting your home phone or cell phone numbers
on the National Do Not Call Registry will not stop all telemarketing calls. You still may receive calls from:
- Political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors.
- Companies with
whom you have an established business relationship. Under FINRA rules, an
established business relationship includes making a financial transaction or
having a security position, money balance or account activity with the firm
within the past 18 months. A securities representative may also call you for up
to three months after you’ve contacted the firm to ask about a product or
- Companies you
have provided express written permission to make telephone contact.
- If the
caller is a family member, friend, or acquaintance, they also may still call
Understand Your Rights
When telemarketers, including people
from the securities industry, call to sell you something, they must follow
these important rules:
Cold Callers Must Check the “National
Do Not Call Registry” — With very few exceptions, federal law requires all
telemarketers, including securities firms, to search the National Do Not Call
Registry every 31 days to avoid calling any numbers that are on the Registry.
Cold Callers May Call You at Home Only Between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. — These time restrictions for calls
at home apply unless you have an established business relationship with
the firm or you gave the firm express written permission to call you at other
times. Cold callers may call you at work at any time.
Tip: If your number has been on the Registry for 31 days and
you receive a cold call from an entity that doesn’t meet any of the exceptions
to the cold calling rules, you can file a complaint at donotcall.gov or by
calling toll-free 1-888-382-1222. You’ll need to know the date of the call and
the company’s name or phone number to file a complaint.
Cold Callers Must Say Who’s Calling
and Why — Cold
callers must promptly tell you:
- Their name
- Their firm’s name
- Their firm’s
address or telephone number
- The purpose of
the call — for example, to sell you an investment or investment-related
Caller ID Tip: If
you have Caller ID activated on your phone, you should be able to tell when a
telemarketer is calling. The Federal Communications Commission requires
telemarketers to transmit Caller ID information. Telemarketers may not block
Additional Responsibilities of Cold
Callers — Cold callers must also:
- Put you on their “Do Not Call” list, if you ask. Every
securities firm must keep a “do not call” list. If you want to stop sales
calls from that firm, tell the caller to put your name and telephone number on
the firm’s “do not call” list. If anyone from that firm calls you again, get the caller’s
name and telephone number, note the date and time of the call, and complain to
the firm’s compliance officer, the SEC, the FINRA, or your state’s securities
regulator. Further below, you’ll find information on how to make a complaint.
Note: Once you’re on a firm-specific
do-not-call-list, neither the firm nor any of its employees are allowed to call
you—even if there is an established business relationship.
- Treat you with respect. Cold callers can’t threaten,
intimidate, or use obscene or profane language. They can’t call you repeatedly
to annoy, abuse, or harass you.
- Get your written approval before taking money directly from your bank accounts.
Before investing, you should always get answers to the questions below
and written information about the investment. If you do decide to buy from a
cold caller, do not give your checking or savings account numbers to the broker
over the phone. Brokers must get your written permission -- such
as your signature on a check or an authorization form -- before they can use
money from your checking or savings account to fund your investments.
- Tell you the truth. People
selling securities must tell you the truth. If they don’t, brokers violate
federal and state securities laws.
What Are Signs of Trouble?
Cold calling is used legitimately to
find clients for the long term. These callers ask questions to understand your
financial situation and investment goals before recommending that you
buy anything. Unfortunately, not everyone has your best financial interest at
heart. Watch for these signs of trouble:
sales tactics. Aggressive cold callers speak from persuasive scripts that include retorts for
your every objection. As long as you stay on the phone, they’ll keep trying to
sell. And they won’t let you get a word in edgewise.
- Pitches that
stress “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities. Watch out for someone who tells you about a
“once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, especially when the caller bases the
recommendation on “inside” or “confidential” information.
- Callers touting
companies with “breakthrough technologies.” These technologies play off of legitimate
technologies, but at the same time sound just a little too good to be true.
- Callers who
refuse to send you written information about the investment. This is a form of manipulation
designed to force a quick decision. You should be able to receive information
about an investment and take as much time as you need to review it.
- Calls from
unregistered and unsupervised salespersons. Cold-calling “brokers” and their bosses may not be
properly registered to sell securities—and often operate in an environment
completely devoid of required supervisory procedures. You can verify whether
the caller is registered to sell securities by using FINRA BrokerCheck.
What Else Can You Do?
When cold callers use harassing,
abusive sales tactics and lie to you about investment opportunities, they
violate the cold calling rules and break federal and state securities laws.
Don’t let them off the hook!
- Report abusive
cold callers. You
can file a complaint with the SEC, FINRA, your state’s securities regulator or
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Investors may file a complaint electronically at the SEC Investor Complaint Center or
call or fax:
Phone: (800) 732-0330 (toll-free)
Fax: (202) 772-9295
Investors may file a complaint
electronically at the FINRA
Investor Complaint Center or call or fax:
Phone: (240) 386-HELP (4357)
Fax: (866) 397-3290
Your State’s Securities Regulator
Investors may file a complaint electronically at the North American Securities
Administrators Association (NASAA) Complaint
Center or call:
Phone: (888) 846-2722 (toll-free)
Federal Trade Commission
You may file
an online complaint at www.donotcall.gov
Phone: (888) 382-1222 (toll-free)
- Tell intrusive
cold callers not to call again. If you’re annoyed by cold callers, stop them before they
start their sales pitch. Put your name on the National Do Not Call
Registry—and inform the cold caller your name is on the list. Tell the caller
to put you on the firm’s “do not call” list. If anyone from that firm calls
you again, complain to the firm’s compliance officer, the SEC, FINRA and your
state’s securities regulator.
- Don’t warm up
to intrusive cold callers. Cold callers often try to “warm up” potential customers with
flattery or friendship. They might try to put you off guard by chatting about
your hometown or the local sports team. Or they might suggest they’ve spoken
with you before. Don’t fall for their tactics. And don’t feel compelled to be
polite or stay on the line. You don’t have to listen if you don’t want to, and
you don’t have to tell cold callers about yourself or your finances. Say “no,
thanks” or “I’m not interested” -- and then hang up. Don’t wait for the caller
to end the call. YOU are in control and can hang up at any time.
What If I Want to Invest?
Never buy an investment based simply
on a telephone sales pitch. A wise investor will always slow down, ask
questions, get written information about the investment, and investigate the
background of the firm and broker. Take notes so you have a record of what the
broker told you, in case you have a dispute later. Before making a final
decision and handing over your hard-earned money, take the time to
investigate. Follow these steps:
- Check out the firm and broker. Use FINRA
BrokerCheck to learn about the professional background, registration/license statuses
and conduct of FINRA registered firms and their registered brokers.
- Call your state’s securities regulator. You’ll find
contact information for your state securities regulator on NASAA’s Web site.
- Is the investment registered?
- Is the broker licensed to do business in my state?
- Have you received any complaints about the broker pushing the
investment or the broker’s firm? Does either have a disciplinary history?
- Have you
received any complaints about the stock, the company, or the company’s
- Ask your broker these questions:
- Is the investment registered with the SEC and the state securities
agency where I live?
- How long has the company been in business? Is it making money? If so,
how? What is its product or service? Have the people who are managing this
company ever made money for investors in the past? Will you send me the latest
reports that have been filed on this company? How can I get more information
about this investment?
- Where does the stock trade? How can I get information about the
stock’s trading price? How easily can I sell? What price would I get if I decide to sell
- How does this match my investment objectives? What is the risk that I
could lose the money I invest?
- What are the costs to buy, hold, and sell this investment?
- Do your own research. Get as much written information about
the investment as you can. Ask for a prospectus, annual report, offering
circular, and financial statements. Commercial Web sites or your local library
may have resources that provide additional information about the company, such
as lawsuits, liens, or recent credit reports. Compare the written information
to what you’ve been told over the phone. Watch out if you’re told that no
written information about the company is available. If that happens, contact
the SEC, FINRA or your state’s securities regulator immediately.
- Get a second opinion. Talk to a trusted financial advisor
or your attorney. Consider calling another firm for a second opinion on the
- Monitor your investment. If you decide to invest, watch your
investment closely. Make sure your broker sends you account statements and
written confirmation of all trades. Read these documents carefully to make
sure they are correct. Be alert for any transactions you did not authorize.
Remember, there are rules governing cold calling. It pays to
know them — and don’t hesitate to take action in the event the caller does not
abide by them.